The Quest for Trophy Trout

If you are at all a man of the fly fishing persuasion, you too may get a little tingly thinking about what October brings to those cold river haunts of the Oncorhynchus mykiss and the Salmo trutta. If you spend any time with the Kansas Outdoorsmen, you already know that tingle probably has more to do with the coming waterfowl season… but that in no way precludes us from getting excited about a weekend on Taneycomo chasing those big Autumn Rainbows and Browns as they move into their cold weather patterns and work upstream.

After several trips down to visit a friend (and most excellent guide of all favored finned species), the good Captain Kris Nelson of Tandem Fly Outfitters, I had been working the calendar over pretty hard, trading emails and texts for over a month in an effort to coerce an additional outdoorsman or two to join me for a shot at a trophy brown or ‘bow.   Several weeks of consistent “big fish” for Kris and his clients (check out the pics on his Facebook page) had us convinced that October was the time to give it a go.  With some expected spousal diplomacy, enough wives were convinced of the critical  importance of such a venture, and the weekend was set for October 8-9.

Our Saturday arrival was punctuated with the meeting of Chocolate Labradors; Dakota, meet Grizzly.  Grizz, this is Dakota.  Boy-meets-girl went as expected, and the two went instantly to work, Dakota impressing the boys, and Grizzly chasing the girl around, understandably starstruck.  We enjoyed the entertainment value of leaping synchronized Labradors, and knowing we were about to abandon them for colder water (leaving them, however, in much kinder company with Miss Amanda), thought it might be a good idea to let them run down some of that energy.


Something they had no problem doing…


Labs sufficiently worked, the time to establish our position on Taneycomo was at hand. We made our way down, started rigging up.  Kris convinced us that actual waders were for the “tourist” fisherman, and that we needed to wear socks over wader boots to look cool.  We bought into that, snapped a pic by the hatchery for good measure, and headed towards the river.

With a perfect day, nice, cool temps, and lots of nice fish in the news, Taneycomo was expectantly, and understandably crowded.  We were able to make our way into a couple of nice areas where we could fish our scuds under egg patterns and San Juans over riffles and breaks, taking as many 8-10″ rainbows as our hearts desired, without bothering any other fishermen.  At least it did not start that way…

I got into a zone, kind of finding that “happy place” – the deliberate pattern of the water, cutting its course through a series of riffles, emptying into a deeper, darker pool, with consistent takes less of a disruption than an actual contribution to the near-trance I found myself in.  For something like 30 minutes I’m in what felt afterwards like dream state, and out of nowhere, my back-cast – in the same motion it’s been for ages, finds the hat of some right-out-of-the-Fly Fishing 101-magazine-gear-clad fellow (the guy Kris did NOT want us to look like) and, snapped abruptly out of my zone, commented to him on how I did not see or hear him sneak up into my back-cast.  Seriously.  I would not have risked a midge in MY eye for an 8″ rainbow.  But to each his own.  No harm done, so we can safely laugh at idiots.

A couple hours in and we’d caught nice numbers already.  But the big boys were thus far elusive.

The afternoon bite was said to coordinate with the generators coming to life and the quick rising water levels. The best place to be was right at the hatchery outlet, where we arrived considerably early and basically stood on our spot, waiting for the river to come to us.  And it eventually did.

Fishing the outlet was out of control, and elbow-to-elbow. More than once we witnessed (or were involved in) 3 man tangles from people trying to drift the same lines, over and over. At one point, Kris hooked into a decent fish and the whole line had to adjust, with a fellow actually taking a spill and ending his day early. This was more akin to… what’s the saying, “shooting fish in a barrel”?  We got to see a LOT of fish trying to work their way upstream back towards the hatchery, and caught fish just one after another.

While we had a number of nice fish, including a couple that may have pushed 20″ and the 3lb mark, no monsters appeared.  The big ones still eluded us. At least we had Nick with headphones keeping us tuned into the K-State-Mizzou football game. Wildcat Touchdowns made the absence of big fish a little less noticeable. Nick was epic, throwing up the arms to occasionally signify yet another Wildcat Touchdown…

Back at the cabins, it was a majority vote to give our hostess, the lovely Amanda, a break from her day of Lab-sitting and treat her to an evening run on Table Rock. We caught several small bass, including a couple smallmouths, with Amanda taking the honors of big fish for the evening – and doing so in a KSU Football t-shirt for good measure. Did not even know they sold those in in southerm Missouri, but if she hadn’t already won our hearts over with her Lab-sitting skills, she had us here.

An unbelievable and highly anticipated steak dinner – fast becoming a trademark characteristic of my Tandem Fly Outfitter visits – was followed up by drinks around a fire pit with some good friends and interesting stories capped off an excellent day.

Our adventure continued into the next morning, where we had a nice breakfast at a local place – a very… VERY popular (translate = hour-and-a-half, maybe closer to 2 hour wait, after being told 20 minutes?!) place called Billy Gails.  Oh, take cash. Nice people, quaint place, but not hip to modern payment methods.  Daylight was a-burning, and the fish were waiting. And off we were to launch the boat in an effort to try a different angle in our quest.

So today’s plan was to try some different areas, using the boat to get us to a couple of stretches where we might wade, using midges and dries, until the water came on later in the afternoon. This ended up being most of our day, as the generators were not on schedule as predicted.

And again, a great mid-day stretch of fishing, that included a lot of very decent fish, ranging from 8-10 inchers up into some 17-18″ fish, on midges, some great fish on dry terrestrial patterns, but still no sign of the trophy bigs.

Late in the day, a bit behind the expected schedule, the generators came to life, driving us to change our tactics to try the drifting up towards the outlet, where the fish would be congregating.   We continued to pick up a few fish, and even tried moving away from the fly fishing and started ripping jerk baits in search of the monsters.  Caught a few this way as well, rounding out a weekend punctuated with variety. Our methods of chase were across the board, and made for an interesting and unique experience.

So many trout were caught, mostly rainbows, but a few browns sprinkled in… but I could not guess a number on how many we caught.  Captain Kris Nelson has set a pretty consistent standard of success with all of his clients, and am guessing he was saving all of the big ones for them. If you get a chance, try and book a trip with him sometime between now and mid November, while the big fish are still moving up and becoming more and more accessible.

Me?  Nah. Nick and I, well, we’ll be duck hunting. Save us a big brown if you get down there though 😉

~ benton

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